11 ways the UK still doesn’t make space for the visually impaired

22 December 2015

Forward by Spencer:

‘I read with interest a recent article published by Vicky Kuhn for International Day of People with Disability on the website disabledGo, especially the comments section, and I thought their readers would be interested to read about the same concerns as illustrated by a member of the VI community as well.’

They weren’t, so I asked Steve to write it anyway..


My name is Steve and I was registered blind in 1993.

As you probably know, I was an engineer at Goonhilly Earth station when my eyesight started to fail and I was subsequently diagnosed with Retinitus Pigmentosa, which gradually reduces vision down to zero for the sufferer.

You could be forgiven for feeling sorry for me and that with such a life limiting condition my day to day life wouldn’t be all that much, but you would be wrong.

I am a member of a local shooting club, I row in a competitive Gig rowing team, I fish most days in my home waters near Helston in Cornwall and compete regularly in fishing competitions.

My fiancé, Helen, and I enjoy going to rock concerts and I am planning my first premier league football match next year.

I am also a director of a company, ADi Access, in which I play a very important day to day role.

I hope you get the idea that it’s not sympathy I want, but understanding of the needless obstacles I and the other 2 million plus blind people in the UK have to deal with in our lives.

In her recent article, Vicky Kuhn went through a list of things to, in her words’ highlight some of the ways that the world still doesn’t make space for disabled people’ from the perspective of someone in a wheelchair and we thought we’d look at similar issues from a Visually Impaired perspective.

  1. The Bus. If I ever have the misfortune of having to travel by myself, and assuming I pick the right bus, public transport makes for an anxious journey. I rely totally on audible announcements without which I would have no means of knowing if I am at my destination so I rely totally on the driver remembering to say if I am at my stop. 
  2. Wrong. I don’t have a problem moving my limbs it’s my retinas that no longer work. I am able to climb steps and generally make my way around, just let me know where the obstacles are and I’m fine.
  3. If you book ahead for assistance you cannot be sure you will be actually be seen at the rail station.  This has been a problem for me as I once had a narrow escape when I missed the train door and landed between 2 carriages.  Luckily the porter spotted me in time, before the train moved off. 
  4. Trains and Braille. Not long ago I was travelling on a train (different one) and needed the loo. Helen led me to the nearest one and, after describing the interior, waited outside. Imagine my surprise when she commented that the facility had Braille signs above and beside the wash basin, toilet button, and hand drier to name a few. This begs the question ‘Who in their right mind would want to move around in a toilet touching every thing with their hands just to find a Braille sign telling them they’ve found the basin?’ I don’t, would you?
  5. Braille signs and instructions are continuing to crop up everywhere; buttons on lifts, menus, toilets the list keeps getting bigger only the number of readers doesn’t. In fact less than 1% of the UK’s blind population read Braille.
  6. High Street stores simply cannot be navigated by cane users due to the complexity of the store layouts.  Supermarkets are somewhat better with a grid layout but the fashion for moving displays and even whole sections makes using them a nightmare.
  7. Concert venues. Many we have been to assume that if you are blind you will not mind sitting behind a pillar or on a fold up chair in the wheelchair area.  In fact the pillar masks the sound and sound quality is obviously crucial to our concert experience as is the comfortable seating that we’ve paid for. 
  8. On a similar note to concerts, on a number of occasions when booking a room we have enquired regarding facilities to aid me which a couple of times has led to our being given the room with the rubbish view. Well I might be blind but Helen isn’t! I call this second hand discrimination.
  9. Generally, people are thoughtful around us but it is little things like letting me know when they are moving away that helps.  I hate finding myself talking to fresh air.
  10. Getting from A to B, Lorries parked on pavements with wing mirrors at head height and shared spaces with cars, the lack of kerbs make navigating a nightmare when you have no sight and uneven pavements interrupt smooth cane use.
  11. Toilets play an important part in our day to day planning and we will often refuse to go somewhere that does not have disabled access facilities. That might seem a bit extreme to some but in their absence my choice is either going in-to the ladies with Helen or asking a gentlemen stranger to escort me in the gents.

Being blind doesn’t mean you become physically disabled but it does remove a great deal of dignity and independence in every day life.

Many of the issues could be easily addressed with even just a little more understanding.

There is an old saying that goes something like: You can’t really understand another persons experience until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes. 

To really understand the challenges for the visually impaired, perhaps you could swap the shoes for a blindfold and a cane.

Read more: When is discrimination actually discrimination?

Please leave a comment if you can think of anything I could add.